“But I have to do it! I can’t say no!”
Uhh, yes you can. Let’s talk about this for a moment…
I hear all the time from people that they “have to” do things. That they “can’t say no”. Or that “it’s not a choice”.
I’m going to call BS.
First, let’s get the caveats out of the way. Yes, I understand there are things in life where the alternatives are incredibly unappealing or scary or horrifying, which makes figuring out what to do a pretty easy decision for you, but that does not mean the choice doesn’t exist, it just means you know that the alternative to what you’ve chosen is, without a doubt, not a good choice for you.
And even once we recognize how much of our life is about choices we make, we sometimes may still choose the same thing. And that’s totally fine! Awareness of choices isn’t always about needing to choose differently if you’re happy with how things are, it’s the awareness that: 1) at any point, if you want to change your life, you can begin to choose differently and 2) you ARE choosing, meaning you show up differently. Let me explain.
When you choose to commit to doing something, even if that something isn’t fun but is hard or sad or scary yet also very important to you, you show up so much differently when you know that you have chosen to be here or do this because it’s important to you (rather than that you HAD to come, it’s no fun, it’s hard, etc.).
As always, I say these things not to criticize, but to help you reframe your life + start seeing things differently, as our beliefs about life and the world and people largely shape the story we tell about ourselves and the circumstances around us.
I find that using personal examples helps to provide a glimpse into how this has worked in my own life, so here goes:
Every morning, I used to wake up and cry (actually cry, not being dramatic) and/or be stressed + anxious about even just the idea of going to work. The commute, the job, the long hours, the uncomfortable business attire, the spending of my time + energy on something that meant, well…nothing…to me.
And yet, I woke up every day and did it. ‘It’ being something that brought me very little to no joy, where I went to bed on Sunday night and flipped the hourglass over, eagerly watching for the sand to empty to the bottom and for Friday evening (assuming I had no work to do that weekend).
You’re probably wondering why I stayed. Well, I stayed because I believed there were a lot of things I HAD to do, things that I didn’t really see as a choice. I HAD to make a lot of money (which could only be ‘guaranteed’ at a top corporation) and MUST be well-liked by my co-workers (so paste that forced smile on and do your best to leave it there all day) and I NEEDED to make my family proud of me and was confident this was the ONLY WAY I could gain the admiration and respect needed to fit in with my super-driven-business-school peers.
I COULDN’T SAY NO to ridiculous expectations from my bosses. I HAD to bend over backwards and twist myself into a pretzel (and, if necessary, grow some extra limbs) to get it all done because if I ever wanted to be a successful “rock star” at my job, saying ‘no’ or being unavailable wouldn’t get me there.
I also HAD to work out multiple hours a day and eat a certain way because I HAD to have the ‘perfect body’ and be ‘perfectly beautiful’. I HAD to be chill and low maintenance and easy-going and not emotional…
…The list goes on…
I created a life for myself where these were the rules I had taken on throughout my life chose (yes, chose) to live by. That’s largely because for a long time, no one had ever taught me that I could see them as a choice. Instead, I saw them as the definite, absolute, unquestionable ‘code’ to life. No one who is largely ‘successful’ is doing things differently, right?
Wrong. Once I stepped out of my bubble, I got to truly know some human beings who lived their lives really differently than me, and they were really, really happy. They had the money they needed and got to travel the world. They seemed super confident in themselves and their bodies whether or not they had a laundry list of credentials or six pack abs. They had awesome friendships and the elusive luxuries I most craved: free time, ease, freedom, joy, showing up as their whole selves without shame, never pretending to be someone they weren’t.
Their lives were far from ‘perfect’ – because let’s be honest, no one’s life is actually ‘perfect’ – but they were perfect for them. That certainly seemed to be more in the direction of what my soul was crying out for, but my mind had silenced through fear.
For a long time, I told myself those things / that kind of life wasn’t possible or that those kinds of people might be happy but they’re also poor (which was a HUGE fear and big scary ‘no-no’ for me), yet here, right in front of me, were multiple examples of people living the very lives similar to the one I craved somewhere deep down inside. Yet still, I thought ‘Well, that’s all well and good for them, but imma do what works for me.’ and carried on.
A bit further down the road, when working with my first life coach, we were talking about my body image, and one day she said to me: “Well, why do you want to look this certain way?” and just kept asking me why after why after why. It may sound annoying, but it’s incredibly effective when done skillfully. Firstly, because it allows you to see there’s a choice to be had, and secondly, because you start to find the flaws in what you once considered undeniable, rock-solid, logical reasoning
This was one of the biggest turning points in my life, in all seriousness. I realized that I was choosing to hold myself to and attempt to chase after this ridiculous standard. That I was making it mean something beyond just looking a certain way, that it would keep me safe and loved and accepted and beautiful and worthy and a number of other things.
Holy crap. No one else had ever asked me this before. That’s because the people who I spoke to had all their own complex web of beliefs about of body image and weight and fitness and diet-culture, which meant no one was ever going to ask me that.
Everyone else, like me, was implicitly agreeing ‘well, of course you’d want to lose weight and get skinny and look this certain way. DUH! me too!’ No hate here whatsoever, it’s just the truth. Most of us surround ourselves with people operating under the same worldview more or less, and diet culture / wanting to be thin is one that permeates MANY social circles.
What this conversation with my coach showed me was that I was choosing to buy into this story + this version of the truth. And most importantly, that I had the choice NOT to, to decide if that was actually super important to me or not.
This is not to say, that I didn’t wrestle with it and go back-and-forth a lot, and that I don’t still sometimes struggle with my body it on a bad day. But it’s about challenging what I once held to be a dogma of sorts to possibly just be only one way of living life and seeing the world.
So with that first MAJOR core belief beginning to crack open, I started to wonder where else I was blind to my options. Turns out, there was a lot I wasn’t seeing because it didn’t fit with my then-version of the truth. I began to wonder that if I could buck the whole ‘needing to look a certain way’ trend, then what else could I see differently?
I started to take inventory on what was truly important to me in my life. Not what I was told to believe was important or realistic or possible. But what was it that made my heart light up and be filled with joy? What were those moments that made me feel all the things I was afraid to admit that I wanted to feel? What comes naturally to me and adds value to the world to make it a better place?
I decided THAT is what I was going to begin to follow, THAT was going to be my north star, and that any beliefs that get in the way would be up for questioning because anything that gets in the way of my truth probably can be proven untrue in any number of ways and move right on out of the damn way of my dreams. (And of course, it goes without saying, this includes being socially responsible and not choosing a path that intentionally involves harming other living beings + the planet.)
I began to choose to believe in possibilities beyond what every person around me was doing or had done. Of giving myself permission to be the visionary I have always been, of having an incredible imagination and actually working to make some of those dreams a reality.
I began to seek examples of people living life differently, of forging their own unique path and experience, instead of going to the echo chamber that would keep me from who I needed to be, who I truly was.
So with all that said, I ask you: what if you reframed your life as a series of choices or decisions you’ve made? What if you recognized that you’re making the decision or the choice to show up in a certain way every day? What if that helped you see that you enjoy or hate certain things in your life more than you allowed yourself to admit?
The reality is that you will learn a lot about yourself and the world. And you can start with the small things: going to (or not going to) events, what you eat, what you buy, what you wear, how you spend your weekends, etc. It doesn’t have to be jumping right into the thick of it (thought it certainly can be if that’s your style), and start getting to truly know yourself + your desires.
Choices become easier as your get clearer on your priorities and are honest with yourself about what matters to you and what doesn’t. There are always going to be a million things competing for your attention and time at any given moment, and if we know what is most important to us and what we went, then we are much more easily able to decide and then feel good about our decision.
At a core level, no matter what choices you are making, recognizing choice is an act of reclaiming your power and getting out of victim/blame mode, living your life in your power rather than passively at the mercy of the forces around you.
You may find that, for example:
– You come to appreciate when people show up to your birthday party fully and happy to be there or don’t show up at all rather than coming begrudgingly.
– Or that you don’t have to be the sole person responsible for all the emergencies at work because while being that person may be an ego-boost (no shame) it actually stresses you out a ton and leaves you feeling resentful of your co-workers.
– Or that maybe you truly do love working out a lot, and that it IS really important to you, reaffirming your commitment to your exercise routine.
– I could share endless examples, but I think you get the point…
We’re all born with the power to choose. And it’s just that. Choices are an expression of our personal power as humans, and once we realize that we don’t have to play by someone else’s ‘rules’ or ‘standards’ and that we can set our own course, we live our lives in the most ‘power-full’ way, not giving the power to make decisions in our lives to anyone or anything else.
Is this easy? Not necessarily. But it does get easier with time, and it will undoubtedly help you, moment by moment, to create the life you want, not letting it happen to you and then hating it / complaining about it. So I ask: what are you going to choose?
You’ve got this. <3
As always, feel free to share this with anyone who may find it helpful, and I would absolutely love to hear how it helps you!
If you need some help with this (or other related topics) and are interested in possibly working together, comment below or click the ‘Contact’ link above, and let’s get talkin’!